Dear WIP Community:
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress. In that spirit, we collected some thoughts from women in our Peer Mentoring Circles to reflect on and celebrate being a woman in product. Here are a few highlights from the Q&A - feel free to post your point of view!
Do you feel that more women are helping each other to succeed in tech?
“Yes. I could not say that 3 years ago. I can say that now. Women feel not only emboldened, but there's camaraderie, in a way I've not seen in my 20+ years professionally.”
Diane Schrader, Founder and CEO, thirdACT in the SF Bay Area
“Yes. I can say it has improved from my own experience. When I was trying to break in to the Product Management few years ago, I had no mentors and I had no information on who had done a similar transition before. There was no awareness or information sharing between female product managers that I knew about. I followed few "famous" product managers on Twitter and Quora and tried to glean information from what they shared publicly. Most of this information was aspirational and too generic to be of direct value in day-to-day issues that Product Managers face. This approach was not scalable.
Today, there is a WIP Facebook group, which I'm an active member of. I see a lot of informal and direct information sharing on these groups on every product management topic I can think of. I have the ability to directly ask female product managers for input on a certain tool, topic or process specific to my product or domain via this group. Even if I'm not actively contributing to a discussion, I am learning by reading the comments from other women about a certain topic. I also met women who were aspiring PM's and shared my own transition story with them, helping them understand how to get into this field. These groups also help with networking and allow women to find new connections and career opportunities, which didn't exist before. I'm incredibly grateful to have these groups as a support system in my career today!”
Sahitya Kakarla, Product Manager at FIS Global in the SF Bay Area
“Absolutely! I have seen a huge change in the way women in tech are connecting with each other and building strong communities just in the last year or two. While the Grace Hopper conference has been around for a while, communities like Women In Product and Tech Ladies are new and upcoming. These have helped women feel more empowered, network with like minded people and learn from the community.”
Archana Nair, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft in Seattle
Every woman has her own way of dealing with the lack of representation in tech. What have you found effective in advocating for women at work? Do you feel it is necessary to draw a distinction between being an advocate vs. feminist at work?
“I am heavily involved in recruiting, especially for my college. I keep an eye out for women with potential but who might be easily deterred by the struggles of being a minority in tech.“
Ria Mirchandani, PM at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington
“I am an advocate for diversity at work, and I take pride in defining myself as an equalist (One who advocates for equal pay and rights for the work they do, irrespective of their sex, origin, nationality, race or religion). I think we need advocates at work to have healthy dialogues.
Feminism is necessary as a political means and social movement to bring wider change in the society, though at workplace to encourage healthy discussion and continuous improvement, we need advocates.”
Sreemati Lalgudi, Head of Product Management and Marketing, QBrick in Stockholm, Sweden
“It's certainly important to advocate for other strong and budding women in tech mainly due to the huge gap in pay and talent pool. Being a feminist is a tag that's unfortunately perceived as irrational and fight for no real reason. Being a feminist has varying degrees of meaning to different people. To me it signifies the need for equality. I like advocate because it emphasizes the act of actually supporting other women in tech. vs the intention of pushing for equality (aka feminist).”
Manjeera Patnaikuni, Product Management at Intuit in the SF Bay Area
“Oh boy! I'm telling you, being an advocate for another woman and anyone is so crucial. I've been utterly fortunate to have had 3 women managers in my career that gave me a voice when I didn't have one and really fought for me. They taught me how important it is to ensure everyone is heard and either enable them to speak up or ensure you give them a voice through yours. I've unfortunately seen a few women affected by being less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts, earning less and having less visibility often because they weren't comfortable speaking up and ensuring they get the credit they deserve. It's then often on the manager to ensure they get that credit, but not every manager does that.
If you can speak up for someone and you have the ability to do it, you should. I've become someone to advocate for others because I've learned it from women that enabled me and they changed my career completely. They pushed me out of my comfort zone to apply for jobs within the company that I would've never dared to apply for, they made me brave. Without those 3 women I wouldn't be where I am today.
I also have to say though, I had male advocates as well. It isn't gender specific, if you see injustice or something that just isn't right, but the person is too afraid to speak up, help them figure it out. Especially if you have the opportunity to drive change for that person. They'll often speak up more after as well, for themselves or for others. It's key to lead by example. I once said to my CEO that I think that maybe one day my honesty and need to speak up for others may get me fired - his response was that we need more people like that, because otherwise how would he ever know what is going on, if no one ever dares to tell him? I liked that approach. Of course this isn't a given in every company, but it feels better to have tried than seeing someone struggle with this and ultimately moving on. Some of the best people in a company are undervalued, and that means that some of your best people may leave. Those are the ones that deserve to be fought for. “
Larissa Licha, Product Lead, Attribution & Incrementality at AdRoll Group in the SF Bay Area
“I don't think this is about feminism per se, but about equality. I make sure to provide opportunities across my team equally; to provide my time in coaching equally; to give praise and feedback equally. In the end, each person's skill is what it is, but we should be doing everything we can to remove barriers that are blocking talented women from excelling.”
Ashley Serotta, Senior Director of Product at TripAdvisor in the Greater Boston Area
“I am a feminist all the time: at home, at work, when I go to the dentist or when I go shopping. My attitude does not change according to the circumstances. By staying true to myself and focusing on deliverables, I send the message that my work is not about my personal beliefs or my gender. It is only about good quality work. This generally sets the tone to all conversations.If there are still people that choose to see gender (in myself or others) I always bring the conversation to the actual work to reflect personal contributions. That is subtle advocating. :)”
Luana Alexe, Senior Expert Product Innovation at Deutsche Telekom in Frankfurt, Germany
“There's a tendency in corporate America to passively listen, or even unconsciously ignore, female voices in the meeting room. This leads to incidences when male colleagues can literally repeat something a female colleague said prior and get nods of agreement as if the statement were original. I've found that simply acknowledging good input and incorporating the original speaker into the continuation of the meeting helps to advocate for female colleagues (eg, "Julie brought up a good point about the pricing. I think we should increase premium rates by $1"). It's simple but effective!”
Judy Sun, Senior Product Manager at Veyo Logistics in San Diego
How have the #metoo stories in tech influenced your outlook about a product career?
“It has made me more of an outward advocate of equality in the workplace and a reminder to always be pushing for opportunities to ensure equality.”
Jennifer Hudiono, Product Manager at Chartio in the SF Bay Area
“Those stories were empowering! During my very first technology internship in college I experienced many sexist remarks and actions from my team. At the time, it made me rethink my degree in technology, and my pursuit of the field in general. It was the support from women in engineering groups on my college campus that helped me through those doubts. Now the #metoo stories are providing that same kind of support to an even broader audience. These aren't isolated incidents, and we have each other to lean on.”
Jennifer Jenks, CTO at Unsung Heroes in the Greater New York City Area
“Made me more stronger. I realized that accepting it and understanding its not my fault is what's going to make me stronger but not break me. I have spoken to various women leaders PM's to CEO's and VC's and have taken steps on how to avoid such sexual harassment and discrimination as I walk up the ladder in career. First step is to accept it and then strategize.”
Roshni Uppala, Product Manager IoT at Henny Penny in the SF Bay Area
What inspired you to want to be a PM?
“When I was working as an analyst at a boutique VC after my undergrad, I had the opportunity to work with many founders and watch how they're so passionate about creating products that tackle different issues. Their inspiring stories help me realize that I want to be on the other side of the table, be in the driver seat, and be a Product Manager that leads her team and builds a product that solve a people problem.”
Angel Fu, Product Manager at stealth company in SF Bay Area
“I started out as a Community Manager, which meant working with users daily, and as such, I grew used to hearing about their pain points. I was just out of college and working in EdTech, and I felt very close to their problems, because a year or two ago, I was dealing with the same issues in education. At the time, user research wasn't big in our company, and product built without constant feedback from the college students who used their product. This was my first time working in a tech company, so I had no idea that being a PM was a thing. I kept thinking, "I'd love to be able to fix their problems." It wasn't until I learned a little more about the tech roles out, there, that I realized I could. Without a technical or business background, that meant I had some catching up to do. But I took classes, studied, went to events, and networked and now, here I am!”
Shelby Stewart, Product Manager at Cengage in the SF Bay Area
“The delight of working with cross functional teams and building something new, along with working with my mentor who was a product manager. He made his job look so easy and so interesting at the same time. That intrigued me and the more I started to learn what it entails, the more exciting it turned out to be.”
“The idea of solving problems through technology, understanding the clients who seek solutions and impacting an organization's profitability through enabling an efficient team. As a woman, I knew it was a male dominated field and would be a challenge to earn respect at first. However, I knew that I could rely on the female super power of multitasking and nurturing relationships and couple this with intellect to prove myself. It's working!”
Maggie Ngugi, Product Manager Resident, Procore Technologies in Santa Barbara Area
What part of WIP (annual conference, peer mentoring circles, local events, Facebook group etc) has had a major positive impact on you? Why?
“I love the Facebook group. It's a very welcoming, open group to share your thoughts, connect with people, ask questions. Whenever I have a struggle in or question about my career, I use the group as a resource. “
Derya Isler, Senior Product Manager at Dell EMC in the Greater Boston Area
“The Facebook group has definitely been a great resource and is a great way to ask/answer questions and share ideas, but I've felt the biggest impact for me have been the personal connections. I have met several women through local events and even a couple just by talking to them repeatedly on the social platforms -- Facebook group -- and it's so wonderful to find other women who I can relate to professionally and personally. I belong to other women in tech groups, but WIP has definitely been the most nurturing and empowering.”
Cindy Joung, Product Manager at Oath in New York
“I met a couple of helpful product leaders in the group. For example, a Sr PM helped me with my resume, a product executive told me to have more confidence and don't compare myself to white men and women from ivy leagues, and reading about women PMs struggling in the tech industry.”
Madalyn Miki, Product Manager, Content Strategy at SugarCoder
Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts. We’d love to hear from more of you as we celebrate this International Women’s Day and Women in Technology History month. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.